One of the greatest hazards to flight is aircraft icing. The instrument pilot must be aware of the conditions conducive to aircraft icing. These conditions include the types of icing, the effects of icing on aircraft control and performance, effects of icing on aircraft systems, and the use and limitations of aircraft deice and anti-ice equipment. Coping with the hazards of icing begins with preflight planning to determine where icing may occur during a flight and ensuring the aircraft is free of ice and frost prior to takeoff. This attention to detail extends to managing deice and anti-ice systems properly during the flight, because weather conditions may change rapidly, and the pilot must be able to recognize when a change of flight plan is required.

Types of Icing

Structural Icing

Structural icing refers to the accumulation of ice on the exterior of the aircraft. Ice forms on aircraft structures and surfaces when super-cooled droplets impinge on them and freeze. Small and/or narrow objects are the best collectors of droplets and ice up most rapidly. This is why a small protuberance within sight of the pilot can be used as an “ice evidence probe.” It is generally one of the first parts of the airplane on which an appreciable amount of ice forms. An aircraft’s tailplane is a better collector than its wings, because the tailplane presents a thinner surface to the airstream.

Induction Icing

Ice in the induction system can reduce the amount of air available for combustion. The most common example of reciprocating engine induction icing is carburetor ice. Most pilots are familiar with this phenomenon, which occurs when moist air passes through a carburetor venturi and is cooled. As a result of this process, ice may form on the venturi walls and throttle plate, restricting airflow to the engine. This may occur at temperatures between 20 °F (–7 °C) and 70 °F (21 °C). The problem is remedied by applying carburetor heat, which uses the engine’s own exhaust as a heat source to melt the ice or prevent its formation. On the other hand, fuel-injected aircraft engines usually are less vulnerable to icing but still can be affected if the engine’s air source becomes blocked with ice. Manufacturers provide an alternate air source that may be selected in case the normal system malfunctions.

In turbojet aircraft, air that is drawn into the engines creates an area of reduced pressure at the inlet, which lowers the temperature below that of the surrounding air. In marginal icing conditions (i.e., conditions where icing is possible), this reduction in temperature may be sufficient to cause ice to form on the engine inlet, disrupting the airflow into the engine. Another hazard occurs when ice breaks off and is ingested into a running engine, which can cause damage to fan blades, engine compressor stall, or combustor flameout. When anti-icing systems are used, runback water also can refreeze on unprotected surfaces of the inlet and, if excessive, reduce airflow into the engine or distort the airflow pattern in such a manner as to cause compressor or fan blades to vibrate, possibly damaging the engine. Another problem in turbine engines is the icing of engine probes used to set power levels (for example, engine inlet temperature or engine pressure ratio (EPR) probes), which can lead to erroneous readings of engine instrumentation operational difficulties or total power loss.The type of ice that forms can be classified as clear, rime, or mixed, based on the structure and appearance of the ice. The type of ice that forms varies depending on the atmospheric and flight conditions in which it forms. Significant structural icing on an aircraft can cause serious aircraft control and performance problems.

Clear Ice

A glossy, transparent ice formed by the relatively slow freezing of super cooled water is referred to as clear ice. [Figure 1] The terms “clear” and “glaze” have been used for essentially the same type of ice accretion. This type of ice is denser, harder, and sometimes more transparent than rime ice. With larger accretions, clear ice may form “horns.”

Types of Aircraft Icing
Figure 1. Clear ice
[Figure 2] Temperatures close to the freezing point, large amounts of liquid water, high aircraft velocities, and large droplets are conducive to the formation of clear ice.
Types of Aircraft Icing
Figure 2. Clear ice buildup with horns

Rime Ice

A rough, milky, opaque ice formed by the instantaneous or very rapid freezing of super cooled droplets as they strike the aircraft is known as rime ice. [Figure 3] The rapid freezing results in the formation of air pockets in the ice, giving it an opaque appearance and making it porous and brittle. For larger accretions, rime ice may form a streamlined extension of the wing. Low temperatures, lesser amounts of liquid water, low velocities, and small droplets are conducive to the formation of rime ice.
Types of Aircraft Icing
Figure 3. Rime ice

Mixed Ice

Mixed ice is a combination of clear and rime ice formed on the same surface. It is the shape and roughness of the ice that is most important from an aerodynamic point of view.

General Effects of Icing on Airfoils

The most hazardous aspect of structural icing is its aerodynamic effects. [Figure 4] Ice alters the shape of an airfoil, reducing the maximum coefficient of lift and AOA at which the aircraft stalls. Note that at very low AOAs, there may be little or no effect of the ice on the coefficient of lift. Therefore, when cruising at a low AOA, ice on the wing may have little effect on the lift. However, note that the ice significantly reduces the CL-MAX , and the AOA at which it occurs (the stall angle) is much lower. Thus, when slowing down and increasing the AOA for approach, the pilot may find that ice on the wing, which had little effect on lift in cruise now, causes stall to occur at a lower AOA and higher speed. Even a thin layer of ice at the leading edge of a wing, especially if it is rough, can have a significant effect in increasing stall speed. For large ice shapes, especially those with horns, the lift may also be reduced at a lower AOA. The accumulation of ice affects the coefficient of drag of the airfoil. [Figure 4] Note that the effect is significant even at very small AOAs.
Types of Aircraft Icing
Figure 4. Aerodynamic effects of icing
A significant reduction in CL-MAX and a reduction in the AOA where stall occurs can result from a relatively small ice accretion. A reduction of CL-MAX by 30 percent is not unusual, and a large horn ice accretion can result in reductions of 40 percent to 50 percent. Drag tends to increase steadily as ice accretes. An airfoil drag increase of 100 percent is not unusual, and for large horn ice accretions, the increase can be 200 percent or even higher.Ice on an airfoil can have other effects not depicted in these curves. Even before airfoil stall, there can be changes in the pressure over the airfoil that may affect a control surface at the trailing edge. Furthermore, on takeoff, approach, and landing, the wings of many aircraft are multi-element airfoils with three or more elements. Ice may affect the different elements in different ways. Ice may also affect the way in which the air streams interact over the elements.

Ice can partially block or limit control surfaces, which limits or makes control movements ineffective. Also, if the extra weight caused by ice accumulation is too great, the aircraft may not be able to become airborne and, if in flight, the aircraft may not be able to maintain altitude. Therefore any accumulation of ice or frost should be removed before attempting flight.Another hazard of structural icing is the possible uncommanded and uncontrolled roll phenomenon, referred to as roll upset, associated with severe inflight icing. Pilots flying aircraft certificated for flight in known icing conditions should be aware that severe icing is a condition outside of the aircraft’s certification icing envelope. Roll upset may be caused by airflow separation (aerodynamic stall), which induces self-deflection of the ailerons and loss of or degraded roll handling characteristics [Figure 5]. These phenomena can result from severe icing conditions without the usual symptoms of ice accumulation or a perceived aerodynamic stall.

Types of Aircraft Icing
Figure 5. Effect of ice and frost on lift
Most aircraft have a nose-down pitching moment from the wings because the CG is ahead of the CP. It is the role of the tailplane to counteract this moment by providing a downward force. [Figure 6] The result of this configuration is that actions which move the wing away from stall, such as deployment of flaps or increasing speed, may increase the negative AOA of the tail. With ice on the tailplane, it may stall after full or partial deployment of flaps. [Figure 7]
Types of Aircraft Icing
Figure 6. Downward force on the tailplane
Types of Aircraft Icing
Figure 7. Ice on the tailplane
Since the tailplane is ordinarily thinner than the wing, it is a more efficient collector of ice. On most aircraft the tailplane is not visible to the pilot, who therefore cannot observe how well it has been cleared of ice by any deicing system. Thus, it is important that the pilot be alert to the possibility of tailplane stall, particularly on approach and landing.

Piper PA-34-200T (Des Moines, Iowa)

The pilot of this flight, which took place on January 9, 1996, said that upon crossing the runway threshold and lowering the flaps 25°, “the airplane pitched down.” The pilot “immediately released the flaps and added power, but the airplane was basically uncontrollable at this point.” The pilot reduced power and lowered the flaps before striking the runway on its centerline and sliding 1,000 feet before coming to a stop. The accident resulted in serious injury to the pilot, the sole occupant.Examination of the wreckage revealed heavy impact damage to the airplane’s forward fuselage, engines, and wings. Approximately one-half inch of rime ice was observed adhering to the leading edges of the left and right horizontal stabilizers and along the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the probable cause of the accident was the pilot’s failure to use the airplane’s deicing system, which resulted in an accumulation of empennage ice and a tailplane stall. Factors relating to this accident were the icing conditions and the pilot’s intentional flight into those known conditions.

Tailplane Stall Symptoms

Any of the following symptoms, occurring singly or in combination, may be a warning of tailplane icing:

  • Elevator control pulsing, oscillations, or vibrations;
  • Abnormal nose-down trim change;
  • Any other unusual or abnormal pitch anomalies (possibly resulting in pilot induced oscillations);
  • Reduction or loss of elevator effectiveness;
  • Sudden change in elevator force (control would move nose-down if unrestrained); and
  • Sudden uncommanded nose-down pitch.

If any of the above symptoms occur, the pilot should:

  • Immediately retract the flaps to the previous setting and apply appropriate nose-up elevator pressure;
  • Increase airspeed appropriately for the reduced flap extension setting;
  • Apply sufficient power for aircraft configuration and conditions. (High engine power settings may adversely impact response to tailplane stall conditions at high airspeed in some aircraft designs. Observe the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding power settings.);
  • Make nose-down pitch changes slowly, even in gusting conditions, if circumstances allow; and
  • If a pneumatic deicing system is used, operate the system several times in an attempt to clear the tailplane of ice.

Once a tailplane stall is encountered, the stall condition tends to worsen with increased airspeed and possibly may worsen with increased power settings at the same flap setting. Airspeed, at any flap setting, in excess of the airplane manufacturer’s recommendations, accompanied by uncleared ice contaminating the tailplane, may result in a tailplane stall and uncommanded pitch down from which recovery may not be possible. A tailplane stall may occur at speeds less than the maximum flap extended speed (VFE).

Propeller Icing

Ice buildup on propeller blades reduces thrust for the same aerodynamic reasons that wings tend to lose lift and increase drag when ice accumulates on them. The greatest quantity of ice normally collects on the spinner and inner radius of the propeller. Propeller areas on which ice may accumulate and be ingested into the engine normally are anti-iced rather than deiced to reduce the probability of ice being shed into the engine.

Effects of Icing on Critical Aircraft Systems

In addition to the hazards of structural and induction icing, the pilot must be aware of other aircraft systems susceptible to icing. The effects of icing do not produce the performance loss of structural icing or the power loss of induction icing but can present serious problems to the instrument pilot. Examples of such systems are flight instruments, stall warning systems, and windshields.

Flight Instruments

Various aircraft instruments including the airspeed indicator, altimeter, and rate-of-climb indicator utilize pressures sensed by pitot tubes and static ports for normal operation.

When covered by ice these instruments display incorrect information thereby presenting serious hazard to instrument flight. Detailed information on the operation of these instruments and the specific effects of icing is presented in Flight Instruments section.

Stall Warning Systems

Stall warning systems provide essential information to pilots. These systems range from a sophisticated stall warning vane to a simple stall warning switch. Icing affects these systems in several ways resulting in possible loss of stall warning to the pilot. The loss of these systems can exacerbate an already hazardous situation. Even when an aircraft’s stall warning system remains operational during icing conditions, it may be ineffective because the wing stalls at a lower AOA due to ice on the airfoil.


Accumulation of ice on flight deck windows can severely restrict the pilot’s visibility outside of the aircraft. Aircraft equipped for flight into known icing conditions typically have some form of windshield anti-icing to enable the pilot to see outside the aircraft in case icing is encountered in flight. One system consists of an electrically heated plate installed onto the airplane’s windshield to give the pilot a narrow band of clear visibility. Another system uses a bar at the lower end of the windshield to spray deicing fluid onto it and prevent ice from forming. On high performance aircraft that require complex windshields to protect against bird strikes and withstand pressurization loads, the heating element often is a layer of conductive film or thin wire strands through which electric current is run to heat the windshield and prevent ice from forming.

Antenna Icing

Because of their small size and shape, antennas that do not lay flush with the aircraft’s skin tend to accumulate ice rapidly. Furthermore, they often are devoid of internal anti-icing or deicing capability for protection. During flight in icing conditions, ice accumulations on an antenna may cause it to begin to vibrate or cause radio signals to become distorted and it may cause damage to the antenna. If a frozen antenna breaks off, it can damage other areas of the aircraft in addition to causing a communication or navigation system failure.